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Athens News Agency: News in English, 09-05-08
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From: The Athens News Agency at <http://www.ana.gr/>
 PM urges: Turn crisis into a catalystPrime ╠inister Costas Karamanlis stressed the need to "turn the crisis into a catalyst" and "proceed with a second wave of reforms" while speaking in parliament on Friday during an off-the-agenda discussion on young people's rights to education, culture and sports initiated by Communist Party of Greece (KKE) leader Aleka Papariga.
"We need to lay down new, firmer foundations and build, on those foundations, the country's progress and prosperity in the post-crisis period," Karamanlis said.
Addressing the opposition, the prime minister asked whether it was justifiable to "promise more than the economy can withstand, through wishful thinking and unrealistic recipes and polarisation?"
In such an eventuality, he warned, "we would not be giving solutions, we would not be responding to the citizens' concerns ...We would be alienating young people and their interest for participation in public affairs".
Karamanlis reiterated that the current global financial crisis was unprecedented, noting that every country sets its own priorities but adding that the collective lesson learned from the crisis was that "in order to once again consolidate security and stability, it does not suffice to simply confront its impact" but it was necessary "to tackle and uproot its causes, to confront the weaknesses that were shown up".
He stressed that there was only one road to follow in that direction: "the road that responds to what we must change and changes it, what must be revised and revises it, what must be reformed and reforms it".
"In these difficult hours that determine the country's future, politics cannot be dominated by petty party expediencies nor restricted to barren reactionism through monotonous nihilistic 'nos', nor subjugated to the interests of the 'accommodated'. In critical circumstances, we do not have the right to aspire to ephemeral party impressions." the prime minister stressed.
"We do not have the right to abandon the difficult but necessary decisions in fear of the passing political cost. We do not have the right to 'caress ears' in order to appear pleasant," Karamanlis warned.
"The global crisis demands realistic and tough decisions," he said, adding that "it requires that policy is not trapped in the past, in populism and irresponsibility" but, rather, that it "seeks and wins a future from within the path of responsibility".
"That is the only way we can succeed," the premier stressed.
PM slams PASOK 'inconsistency'
During the second round of speeches, Karamanlis focused on what he called main opposition PASOK's "inconsistency" and accused the party and its leader George Papandreou of permanently having a "foot in two camps".
Papandreou says one thing when abroad, another at home, promises to support enterprise when talking to investors and later promises to tax business when talking to workers, PASOK passes laws when in government and then protests against their application when in the opposition, he said.
Karamanlis pointed out that employers were resorting to laws passed by PASOK during the crisis in order to cut back working hours and wages, which was extremely unpleasant but better than forcing a business to shut down altogether and make all its staff redundant. He stressed that businesses should not use the crisis as a pretext to employ PASOK laws but take decisions after consultation with their employees, activating the measures for a restricted period of time only.
Defending his government's record in managing economic issues and the social insurance fund mergers, he said PASOK was contradicting itself by claiming that the economy was collapsing while at the same time promising hand-outs to everyone.
"In words, you have handed out 11 billion euros but you don't explain where you will get it from," Karamanlis noted. He poured scorn on a suggestion by PASOK's spokeswoman for economic issues that funds would be raised by re-introducing a tax on large properties and by taxing the Church, or by abolishing tax exemptions. The premier pointed out that Church property was already being taxed through the uniform property tax and that several categories of tax exemption were actually social welfare measures, like those for unemployment benefit, or mothers with large families and others.
Such references proved that PASOK did not have a seriously thought-out plan and this highlighted the party's overall irresponsibility, Karamanlis stressed.
In his final remarks, the premier countered opposition accusations that state spending had soared by directly assigning public works to contractors during ND's time in government.
"The biggest direct assignments that took place in our country were the famous 'programme agreements' [under PASOK]," Karamanlis asserted, saying that state debts had soared as a result of the "crime" of the stock market bubble, the untransparent contracts of the 3rd Community Support Framework (CSF), fines from the European Community, kickbacks for the TOR-M1 and the dealings of Hellenic Telecommunications Organisation (OTE) in Romania and elsewhere.
He stressed that as a senior minister in the last PASOK governments, Papandreou could not be considered without blame for the policies they had followed, even if he was not directly involved in wrongdoing, and criticised the main opposition leader for "seeking to cover up the responsibility of PASOK governments for the tripling of public debt".
 Papandreou: ND bequeathing 'gloomy legacy'The "outgoing" New Democracy (ND) government was leaving a "gloomy legacy" to the younger generation, main opposition PASOK leader George Papandreou said in parliament on Friday, speaking during an off-the-agenda discussion on young people's rights to education, culture and sports initiated by Communist Party of Greece (KKE) leader Aleka Papariga.
Commenting on Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis' address to the House earlier, Papandreou charged that in describing what was at stake today, the premier had described "everything he has not done".
Papandreou further said that ND was "bequeathing" to the younger generations immense financial burdens, an "economy of recession that will be running at negative rates, with deficits reaching up to 5 percent -- despite the grandiose declarations -- and hidden deficits that were created well before the global crisis".
The PASOK leader, addressing himself specifically to the prime minister, said that the ND finance minister himself had admitted last August that "we've hit rock bottom".
"Your government confessed this," he added.
The ND government was leaving behind a huge burden in the form of social security fund deficits, Papandreou said, charging that the government had relieved the banks of their social security obligations and transferred them to IKA (the state Social Security Foundation) and the social security funds. "You played with the toxic bonds, and unified the social security funds without proper planning," he accused the government.
Papandreou said that the younger generation would inherit a country that was "under supervision", having lost its validity and credibility, a country that was borrowing on the most expensive terms in the euro-zone, while it had zero absorption from the National Strategic Reference Framework (NSRF) two years its commencement.
ND has burdened Greece with 80 billion euros in debt, PASOK's leader continued, while the "throngs" of 'blue' consultants' on committees set up by the government have cost the country one billion euros.
Papandreou said that when PASO╩ took over the government it would channel 5 percentage points of GDP to education, as it has pledged, with one billion euros being earmarked from the very first state budget it will draft.
"You ask us where we will find the money? One billion euros is the amount that you are wasting for your partisan committees alone. We will make a serious redistribution, cut wasteful spending, innovate," Papandreou said.
PASOK to scrap tax breaks for big business
In his reply to Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis rejoinder, Papandreou stressed that his party had no plans to abolish tax exemptions for benefits to parents, the unemployed and weaker classes but only an estimated five billion euros in tax breaks for big business.
"I understand that the prime minister and New Democracy's are anxious to find an alibi for five years of failure. But I would expect that they would not resort to distorting our positions," he said, during the second round of speeches in Parliament.
He also demanded explanations about how the government spent the additional 80 billion euros in public debt and whether Greece had benefited from entering the excessive deficit process as a result of a soaring public deficit in 2007-2008.
"You held elections in 2008 to pass a 'responsible budget' that ended up derailing the country's finances by eight billion euros - more than we spend on education in Greece. Essentially we have no budget," he stressed.
Papandreou repeated that the government had grossly mismanaged the social insurance funds, pointing out that IKA had been recording surpluses when the government took over and now had deficits, while the deficit of the OAEE freelance workers fund had increased from 34 billion euros to 700 billion euros.
State spending overall had increased from 38 billion euros to 50 billion euros, PASOK's leader pointed out, covered with borrowing at high interest when global rates were actually very low.
Replying to Karamanlis' accusations that he was maligning the country with his statements abroad, Papandreou countered that the country's image had been damaged by the state audit, the scandals that made global headlines and the reports on the murder of Alexis Grigoropoulos and the ensuing riots that rocked Athens.
 Eurostat report on asylum applications in EUBRUSSELS (ANA-MPA - M. Aroni) Greece has the fourth-highest number of asylum applications relative to its population among European Union countries, after Malta, Cyprus and Sweden, according to a report released on Friday by the European statistics agency Eurostat.
In terms of the absolute number of applications received, Greece ranked fifth with 19,900, with France at the top of the list with 41,800 and the UK second with 30,500 (though the UK figure covers only new applicants).
Eurostat said that EU countries turned down the majority of asylum applications submitted to them in 2008 with the exception of Malta, which approved more than half (1,410 out of 2,685).
In 2008, there were nearly 240,000 asylum applicants registered in the EU27, or 480 applicants per million inhabitants. The main countries of citizenship of these applicants were Iraq (29,000 or 12% of the total number of applicants), Russia (21,100 or 9%), Somalia (14,300 or 6%), Serbia (13,600 or 6%) and Afghanistan (12,600 or 5%).
In 2008, the EU27 made 193,690 first instance decisions on asylum applicants. There were 141,730 rejections (73% of decisions), 24,425 applicants (13%) were granted refugee status, 18,560 (10%) subsidiary protection and 8,970 (5%) were granted authorisation to stay for humanitarian reasons.
Greece received 19,885 asylum applications from immigrants in 2008. The largest numbers of these applicants were from Pakistan (35 percent), Afghanistan (11 percent) and Georgia (11 percent). In 2008, Greece considered 29,460 asylum applications in total, granted refugee status in 380 cases (1.3 percent) and rejected 29,080 cases.
The country with the largest number of asylum applications per million inhabitants was Malta (6,350), followed by Cyprus (4,370), Sweden (2,710), Greece (1,775), Austria (1,530) and Belgium (1,495).
The Eurostat report was released one day after the European Parliament passed a resolution proposing measures to protect the rights of asylum seekers and to simplify the system for granting refugee status in the member-states.
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